Inspired by the riveting true story.
Men of Honor is based on the true story of Carl Brashear, an African American whose dream is to become the first African American U.S. Navy Master Diver. Men of Honor was director George Tillman's second feature (his first being the critically acclaimed Soul Food) and a moderate hit at the box office. The all-star cast includes Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets), Robert De Niro (GoodFellas, Analyze This), and Charlize Theron (Reindeer Games). Fox has released a special edition of Men of Honor flooded with a wonderful movie and a treasure trove of extra features.
Facts of the Case
Carl Brashear (Gooding, Jr.) is the type of man that never quits. He grew up in Sonora, Kentucky, in the 1940s among his family of farmers. As a child Carl's father (Carl Lumbly) worked the fields as hard as he could, yet with the knowledge he would never own the land. Carl's father gives him one piece of advice: "don't end up like me." Carl never forgets his father's words, even after he leaves for the U.S. Navy.
In the Navy Carl is made a cook. Though at this point in history the Navy had decided to integrate whites and blacks into the Navy, the Navy itself was slow to change. African Americans were assigned only two positions: cooks and assistants. Carl, however, sees himself as a Navy Diver. In an act of defiance against a Navy rule allowing blacks to only swim certain days and hours, Carl jumps in the ocean with the white men and races one to a buoy. Carl wins and is promoted to Search and Rescue Swimmer because of his speed.
At the U.S. Navy Dive & Salvage Training School he meets up with his new Superior, Chief Billy Sunday (De Niro). Sunday is a harsh, racist officer who gives Carl a hard time as soon as he steps in the door of the training facility. Carl is immediately brandished an outcast by the rest of the trainees (who are all white). Carl endures derogatory notes left on his bed, unrewarded heroism (after he saves a fellow diver) and tragic life lessons. Through it all Carl has only one goal: pass the course to become a U.S. Navy Diver.
The film takes us through Carl's struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds, including his marriage to his reading teacher Jo (Aunjanue Ellis), his brush with death, and his newfound relationship with an unlikely ally: Chief Sunday.
Men of Honor is a quiet film that finds inspiration in one man's quest for success. Carl Brashear is the type of historical figure most children will not learn about in school. It is a joy then to see this film released. Carl's story deeply touches anyone who has ever felt they can't do something due to society's prejudice.
On one level Men of Honor is a moderate drama/action film filled with well-constructed action pieces. Go one more level down and you find an inspirational drama unfolding about the strength of the human spirit. I don't know a lot about the real Carl Brashear's life, though the fictional Carl Brashear is a pillar of force and determination. When Carl is told that he'll never be a U.S. Navy Diver because of his African American descent, his recourse of action is to try harder. There is a scene where Chief Sunday asks his Caucasian trainees to welcome their new recruit. Silence proceeds, then one by one the men take their packs and leave. The entire time Carl stands at attention until all but one have gone. Watching this one scene shows the power of one man's determination. How terrible that people had to go through this type of thing (and still do). It reminds us that we have come a long way from where we were fifty years ago, and have a long way to go to where we should be.
All performances in Men of Honor are top notch, lead by Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Gooding, Jr. plays Brashear with bubbling energy and uncompromising faith. Gooding, Jr. is the type of actor that always seems to have limitless amounts of energy powering his performances. In such films as As Good As It Gets you can see the energy almost waiting to explode. Men of Honor is no exception. Gooding, Jr. is able to produce a stable, unflinching performance with out overdoing his character. Brashear is the type of man who is not bitter at his circumstances. He has no anger over the racism or hardships he's had to endure. It seems that Carl accepts that this is the way things are, even as he knows they must change. This is the ultimate center of Carl, and the center of the film.
De Niro gives his usual excellent performance, playing Sunday as a typical bigoted southerner, then moving the character into a different direction during the second half of the film. In a way I enjoyed De Niro's character of Chief Sunday more than Carl Brashear. Brashear is a very respectable man, but perhaps slightly one note. Sunday possesses more of an arc; he starts off as someone you hate, but by the end of the film becomes a man of small dignity.
The minor characters of the film fill their positions well, though this is really De Niro and Gooding's show. Michael Rapaport (Mighty Aphrodite, Deep Blue Sea) has a minor role as a fellow Navy Trainee who befriends Carl. Charlize Theron plays De Niro's floozy wife who is ultimately unnecessary to the film, though the performance is more than adequate. Finally there's Hal Holbrook as Pappy, a bigoted officer who wants to see Carl fail…and owns a pug dog. A very well rounded character if you ask me.
Men of Honor is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 with hardly any defects spotted. A small amount of edge enhancement was present, yet nothing to hinder your enjoyment of the film. Colors were bright and bold with blacks looking solid. Fox has done a top-notch job with the transfer for Men of Honor.
Audio is also excellent with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (in English and French). Bass was deep, rear speakers used accordingly (especially in the underwater scenes) and Mark Isham's (Blade, Of Mice and Men) score blasts full front during the more dramatic periods.
Men of Honor is presented as a special edition with a hefty amount of features. Director George Tillman, Jr. introduces some deleted scenes included on the disc. Most of these scenes are just extensions of other scenes, including one with actor Kurt Fuller (that goofball from the Hulk Hogan movie No Holds Barred…I just had to plug that). The scenes are interesting, if sparse. I can understand why they were cut from the final film as they tend to be just filler.
Next up is a "Making Of Men of Honor" documentary including interviews with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Robert De Niro, director George Tillman, Jr., Carl Brashear, and more. The documentary is a nice look at the making of the film, with behind the scenes looks at the equipment and special effects, as well as the actors and locations. A must for you hardcore diving fans.
"MasterChief: A Tribute to Carl Brashear" is a great view of the man himself, Carl Brashear. Many of the filmmaking cast and crew discusses their feelings about Brashear and what making the film meant to them. Brashear himself is interviewed, talking about his own history and feelings about diving. An excellent companion piece to the film.
Men of Honor includes an audio commentary by director George Tillman, Jr., Cuba Gooding, Jr., writer Scott Smith, and producer Robert Teitel. The track is very talkative (as usual with two or more people on a track) and the filmmakers seem very excited and proud of the film. The track is a usual blend of behind the scenes stories, humor, reminiscing and history of how the film finally came to be.
A music video by Brian McKnight for the song "Win" is included, as well as a promo spot for the soundtrack album. Two theatrical trailers are included, plus two television spots. Finally there's an animatic (a mix of storyboards, CGI and actual scenes), which features an optional commentary track by director Tillman, Jr.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though Men of Honor is a wonderful film, it's not without its inherent flaws. The minor characters are sorely underused. Hal Holbrook as Pappy plays an interesting character, yet we get no insight into why he is so bigoted (though one might argue that it's a generational thing). Sunday's wife is also underused; if the character weren't in the story at all it would make no difference in the final film.
The film moves briskly, almost too briskly. There were times when the plot skipped ahead many years leaving gaps in the story. The relationship between Carl and his wife is woefully underdeveloped. As soon as they have met it seems that he's already married to her, and then they suddenly have kids. Maybe I'm just a bit slow, who knows…
Finally, this film is rated "R." Why? The only reason I can spy is because of some salty language. A shame, for this is a wonderful movie for children to watch about the power of determination and never giving up.
An excellent biopic about a man who dared to defy a system and break though the wall of racism. The story of Carl Brashear is an uplifting tale that is definitely worth watching. The DVD is packed with great extras and bonus material, the transfer and audio great, the acting professional. This may not be something you need to own for your collection, but it is definitely worth a rental.
For those who dare to dream about being the best they can…see Men of Honor.
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